eco ramblings

a dialogue with an Eco Patriot

Archive for June, 2010

Sustainability is a Journey… Part 2

Posted by Luke on June 30, 2010

A month ago I wrote a post on how sustainability is a journey.  The two main points I tried to get across were that (1) everyone defines sustainability differently and (2) sustainability isn’t something that happens overnight.  I am continually reminded of this at Eco-Products.

The challenge I face is that with a name like Eco-Products, people expect us to be the absolute, most sustainable business in the world (oh, and did I mention that everyone defines sustainability differently?).  We definitely want to be the most sustainable company possible, but it will take time.  Sustainability is a journey.

When Eco-Products built our brand of environmental products, like most young companies, we started at a sales level of nil.  We knew what we wanted to do – to green the packaging industry – but there was a long journey in front of us.  We knew we couldn’t change an industry over night.

One of the first steps we had to take in launching our brand was to find factories who were willing to bet on us.  They had to be willing to process new environmental materials on their multi-million dollar pieces of equipment.  We couldn’t tell them how much we’d be ordering because we had no idea.  Forecasting sales of a new product in a new market is nearly impossible.

These complexities narrowed down the field of potential factories very quickly.  We couldn’t find one manufacturer in the U.S. who was willing to bet on us.  The only companies who were willing to take a chance were in other parts of the world.  As we dug into this, we found that a global supply chain had some major benefits.

First, the energy used in some of the places we chose to manufacture was as clean or cleaner than in the U.S.  Second, we learned that the carbon emissions of shipping our products across the ocean was only 11% of the total carbon emissions of the product’s entire life cycle emissions.  Upon learning that, we made the commitment to invest in carbon offsets to completely offset the emissions from the transportation of our products.

Third, manufacturing in the U.S. would only yield a 1.6% improvement to our carbon footprint.  We hired BCS, Inc., an excellent independent environmental consulting firm, to do this analysis.  I was shocked at this number, but the reason it is so low is because we would have to truck products further distances which has more of a carbon impact than shipping containers on a boat that carries thousands of other products.

At the time, we didn’t have the sales volume that justified investing millions of dollars into U.S.-based manufacturing equipment (nor did we have the money), and we had to start somewhere if we wanted to green an entire industry.  Leveraging the technology and manufacturing capabilities overseas also gave us the opportunity to create nearly 50 jobs based in the U.S. at our headquarters doing sales, marketing, accounting, product development, and more.

All along, we have felt that if we could build enough critical mass we would be able to make even more meaningful changes to our carbon footprint when we could later afford to do so.  We essentially had to compromise early on.

George Siemon, the C-I-E-I-O of Organic Valley, talked about this very point in a recent interview.

“My enlightenment was to not try to do everything at once, but to build a broad, solid foundation, and then we would be able to do more of what our mission was, instead of trying to do it all at once, and failing—so we have found the happy medium. Now that we’ve reached maturity, we’ve been able to turn back and do some of the idealistic things we always felt were important.

Compromise is a part of doing business. A simple example would be we’ve hauled milk into North Carolina from Ohio and built up a business. And then we started working with farmers in North Carolina so we could start a local business. You could say it was a compromise to haul milk that far but we had market realities to address.

We’ve now reached the point where we are looking throughout the company for more opportunities to do things and invest more in sustainability.”

Eco-Products seems to be at a similar place to Organic Valley in our company’s evolution.  We have matured to the point that we are on the cusp of being able to make significant changes to our carbon footprint and invest more in sustainability.  We have had to make compromises early on to get us to that point, but we are nearly there.  And there’s no doubt that sustainability will continue to be a journey.


Posted in containers, Eco-Products, foodservice, footprint, GHG, green jobs, management, packaging, shipping, sustainability | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Who Knew Dirt Was So Important?

Posted by Luke on June 29, 2010

There’s a new documentary out I haven’t been able to see yet, but would like to.  It’s called Dirt! The Movie and is narrated by Jamie Lee Curtis.  It was a selection in the Sundance Film Festival and has won numerous other awards.  The movie is all about the importance of dirt and how the world depends on it yet we are taking pitiful care of it.  Here’s the trailer…

Posted in composting, event | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Are Consumers Also Green Washers?

Posted by Luke on June 21, 2010

I read an article today that challenged consumers to put their money where their mouth is.  It was the first time I have heard someone call consumers more of green washers than companies. The article tries to explain how consumers in surveys claim they are buying more green products and are willing to spend more money on brands that are sustainable, but the reality is that they aren’t following through with their wallets.

On one hand, it’s an interesting argument and point to discuss.  On the other hand, I don’t buy it.  I don’t think people are green washers as individuals.  If my neighbor tells me about the energy efficient windows he just installed, I’m excited for him and also inspired by him. I don’t think for a second that he’s green washing me.  Why would he care to do that?  He has no reason to.

For companies, though, they have images to uphold.  Their products have to be better priced, higher quality, more trendy, longer lasting, more advanced, and greener than their competitors.  They have to pit themselves against other brands in a bloody-red ocean of competition and advertising noise.  They have to find some way to stand out.  And the way to stand out is often to be more green than their competitors.  For this reason, I undoubtedly think companies are more susceptible to green washing than consumers.  Consumers don’t have anyone to compete with.  Have you ever tried to out-green your next-door neighbor with the hopes of appealing more to the neighbor across the street?  No.

Believe it or not, some companies are becoming more green because they truly care about the planet.  The employees that are implementing those sustainability initiatives at those companies actually want to make a positive impact with their company’s resources.  Not to mention that having a strong sustainability program has been proven to increase employee engagement.  A large survey by Brighter Planet found that 80% of U.S. workers polled believe it’s important to work for a company that makes the environment a top priority.  What company wouldn’t want more employee engagement and greater satisfaction?

The unfortunate part in all of this, however, is that companies will continue to feel compelled to overstate their greenness.  It continues to be a deciding factor in some consumers’ buying decisions.  As such, green will continue to be a product or brand attribute that companies advertise, whether accurate or not.

Posted in brand loyalty, greenwashing, marketing, sustainability | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Top 11 Things I Love About My Job Right Now

Posted by Luke on June 17, 2010

In no particular order…

11.  We play E-C-O (our version of H-O-R-S-E) on the basketball hoop in the parking lot when we need a break.  When the founder, Steve, started on a winning streak, we banned him from wearing his lucky Michael Jordan jersey.

10.  Who wouldn’t love your job when you get paid to commute?  Eco-Products gives the 26% of the employees who bike, walk, bus, carpool, or drive a hybrid to work in aggregate of over $15,000 every year for using alternative forms of transportation.

9.  Our Marketing & Graphics team completely floored me today with some new product artwork they are working on.  I felt like a kid in a candy shop.  I was so giddy with excitement I actually caught myself drooling.  Not kidding.

8.  I learn something new everyday.  Today I learned that our Customer Care Manager, Mary, is now a beekeeper as of 3 weeks ago.

This isn't Mary, but I thought it was a funny picture. Why is he smiling?

7.  There’s nothing like working with people who make you laugh.  We just hired an incredibly talented, and funny, person to manage national account sales.  He kept me laughing the past couple days when we traveled together to North Carolina.

6.  My 10-month old daughter loves our cups.  It makes her happy that I’m looking out for the planet.

5.  Everyday I have the privilege of learning from one of the greatest CEOs to ever run a company.  That’s not me kissing ass.  That’s the truth.

4.  Friday goodies!  Every Friday a manager brings in breakfast for everyone.  Yummmmmm

3.  We truly have some of the best and the brightest people in the industry.  I’m convinced our sales team is more educated and knowledgeable than any sales team in the country.

2.  For the company’s summer party, we rented a bus and are taking all of our employees and spouses to watch the Colorado Rockies game tonight.

1.  I truly feel like I’m making a difference everyday.

Posted in Eco-Products, management | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Sustainability Partnerships Between the Public and Private Sectors

Posted by Luke on June 15, 2010

Sustainability movements, and zero waste in particular, are most effective when there’s a partnership between the public and private sectors.  Yellowstone National Park has established one of the best examples of a public-private sector partnership I’ve ever seen.

I met Jim Evanoff from the National Parks Service last week.  Jim is one of the most senior people in the National Parks Service and manages all things environment at Yellowstone.  Yellowstone has achieved an 80% waste diversion rate through public and private partnerships.  Although Eco-Products’ foodservice items are part of the equation, there’s a lot more involved in that 80% number.

The park draws over 3.3 million visitors every year staying in 2,000 hotel rooms with a staff of 5,000 workers servicing them.  With that many people, the only way they’ve continued to increase the waste diversion rate year over year is by leveraging resources they don’t have.  For materials they couldn’t previously recycle, they built recycling systems.  For example, they worked with universities and private companies to build the first ever propane tank recycling machine.  By partnering with these organizations, they’ve created a business in and of itself that can now divert propane tanks from landfills at every campsite in the country.   Yellowstone alone now diverts 25,000 propane tanks a year.

In the communities like this in which sustainability has taken hold, there has typically been a strong collaboration between businesses and government.  Businesses can invest resources and brand equity among other things.  Governments can implement sustainability regulations and policies.  When both parties work in unison towards similar objectives, rapid progress towards systemic sustainability will occur.

Posted in innovation, sustainability, zero waste | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Colorado Recycling Summit

Posted by Luke on June 13, 2010

I spent part of last week in Steamboat, Colorado at the Colorado Recycling Summit organized by the Colorado Association for Recycling.  Did you know that Colorado has a goal to divert 75 % of waste from landfills by 2020?

At the Summit, I had the pleasure of moderating a panel on Zero Waste Events & Venues with some very knowledgeable people.

  • Liz Wahl, Food & Beverage Director for Steamboat Resorts, and Dave Epstein, VP of Twin Enviro (Steamboat landfill and compost facility) – They discussed how Steamboat Ski Resort is working towards zero waste in a close partnership between the resort and the compost facility.  Liz receives hugs and compliments from employees everyday about how they love the fact that they are composting – a great example of how sustainability initiatives can improve employee morale and engagement.
  • Jennifer Bohn, Boulder County Conservation Specialist – She shared insight on how she has taken the Boulder County Fair down a path towards zero waste with a 112,000 attendees last year.  One of her tips was to redeploy staff from being “trash goalies” to actually sorting waste after it was collected to ensure it goes to the proper waste stream.
  • Jack Debell, Director of Development for CU Recycling, and Molly Brown, Volunteer Coordinator for CU Recycling – Jack is an icon in the state recycling scene as well as in the national scene for university sustainability.  He helped CU attain recognition as America’s Top Green University by the Sierra Club.  He and Molly discussed how they achieved a nearly 80% waste diversion rate at 56,000 person stadium Folsom Field.  I’m pretty sure that’s the largest stadium in the country to achieve a waste diversion rate anywhere near that level.

In one of my next posts, I’ll discuss a couple key trends identified at the Summit.

Posted in composting, event, recycling, zero waste | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Why Do People Litter?

Posted by Luke on June 10, 2010

Are people really that lazy?  Is it accidental?  Or do they just not care?  I’m always amazed when I see litter on the ground, especially when there’s a trash can nearby.

We’re all aware of the swelling size of the Pacific Garbage Patch.  Cleaning up litter on the ground is a lot easier than cleaning up litter in the ocean.  We can all rent boats and sail to “the patch” and troll for garbage.  That could take a while.  I definitely applaud groups who are doing exactly that though.

But the root problem of the Great Garbage Patch is that people litter.  I just can’t figure out why.  If we can stop people from littering, we’d prevent another “Patch” from forming.  Maybe I’m writing this post a little too late because an Atlantic Garbage Patch was just found in the Bermuda Triangle of all places.

One organization that is trying to address the root problem of people littering is California State Parks.  They recently held an event at Carlsbad State Beach (a popular location for professional surf tournaments) to educate people about the problems of littering and to clean up the beaches.  Jim Hayes, an Eco-Products employee who lives in Southern California, gave up his weekend to participate and I want to recognize Jim and the other 200+ volunteers for their efforts. They picked up hundreds of bags of litter.  Nice job.  You’ve set a great example.

Posted in event, litter, trash | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

My New Favorite Mechanic

Posted by Luke on June 3, 2010

It’s hard to find a good mechanic.  I’m happy to say I don’t have to worry about that anymore.  Eco-Products recently began offering a new employee perk involving a green car mechanic.  We bring Green Garage, a Boulder-based startup that does nothing but green car repair, to our offices once a quarter and reimburse employees $10 for any oil change and $20 for any other service.  Green Garage also offers all of our employees a discount if we get a certain number of employees to participate.  They have a mobile garage they bring with them to our building.  And as part of their normal service, they will pickup customers’ cars and drop them back off to your home or office.  That’s impressive!

Green Garage's Mobile Garage at the Eco-Products Building

What really excites me about their services is that, in addition to being better for the environment, they are also better for cars.  For example, their $69.95 oil change lasts for 10,000 miles, increases fuel efficiency, includes API approved Biodegradable oil which lasts for 24,000 miles, and includes a 53 point inspection and Energy Intervention.  A few of their 60 eco-friendly services are listed below.

If you don’t live in Boulder, sit tight.  Green Garage is expanding rapidly.  They are planning to be a nationwide company in the not too distant future.

High‐performance Dual Stage Oil Filter

Think ’super strainer’ that filters down to 3 microns instead of ‘chunky’ conventional filters at 30 microns. That’s 10 times more maximum purity through a two part, parallel filtration system. Increases your fuel economy up to 5%, lasts twice as long as normal filters and can decrease oil use by 70%.

oilMotor Oil

We offer two Green Garage approved earth and wallet friendly oil options: choose a re‐refined oil or one made from biodegradable animal by-products. Both are API approved and last up to 24,000 miles when matched with our dual stage oil filter. C’mon, step up and do your part to reduce waste and our dependence on foreign oil.

nitrogenNitrogen Tire Fill

Blow up your tires and in as little as one week they can become under‐ inflated, sapping fuel economy as much as 3%. So why not blow them up right and fill your tires with nitrogen. Nitrogen’s molecules are much bigger than plain air so it slows leakage, is less variable in changing temperatures and extends tire life by producing less tire‐deteriorating water vapor than air.

Posted in Boulder, sustainability | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Starting an Office Recycling Program

Posted by Luke on June 1, 2010

80-90% of solid waste can be recycled in the average workplace according to the EPA.  Inc. magazine recently published a how-to-guide for setting up an office recycling program.  It shows that recycling doesn’t have to be overly daunting to setup if broken into a series of small steps.  These steps include the following:

  1. Determine what can be recycled
  2. Identify where and how those items are recycled (see
  3. Encourage staff participation and ensure senior leadership buy-in
  4. Train staff
  5. Arrange for disposal
  6. Retrain staff and measure progress

Here are some additional resources:

Posted in green guidelines, logistics, recycling, sustainability | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

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